Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On the Morning of Christ's Nativity

I'm a couple of days late with this, but I offer to you with my prayers that Christmas is all that it is meant to be for you and "yours."

On the Morning Of Christ's Nativity
by John Milton

On the Morning of Christ's Nativity
This is the month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav'n's eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.
That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,
Wherewith he wont at Heav'n's high council-table,
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside, and here with us to be,
Forsook the courts of everlasting day,
And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.
Say Heav'nly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein
Afford a present to the Infant God?
Hast thou no verse, no hymn, or solemn strain,
To welcome him to this his new abode,
Now while the heav'n, by the Sun's team untrod,
Hath took no print of the approaching light,
And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?
See how from far upon the eastern road
The star-led wizards haste with odours sweet:
O run, prevent them with thy humble ode,
And lay it lowly at his blessed feet;
Have thou the honour first thy Lord to greet,
And join thy voice unto the angel quire,
From out his secret altar touched with hallowed fire.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Nativity: A Christmas Poem

by John Donne

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov'd imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod's jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

An Advent Poem

Advent Sunday

Awake--again the Gospel-trump is blown --
From year to year it swells with louder tone,
From year to year the signs of wrath
Are gathering round the Judge's path,
Strange words fulfilled, and mighty works achieved,
And truth in all the world both hated and believed.

Awake! why linger in the gorgeous town,
Sworn liegemen of the Cross and thorny crown?
Up from your beds of sloth for shame,
Speed to the eastern mount like flame,
Nor wonder, should ye find your King in tears,
E'en with the loud Hosanna ringing in His ears.

Alas! no need to rouse them: long ago
They are gone forth to swell Messiah's show:
With glittering robes and garlands sweet
They strew the ground beneath His feet:
All but your hearts are there--O doomed to prove
The arrows winged in Heaven for Faith that will not love!

Meanwhile He passes through th' adoring crowd,
Calm as the march of some majestic cloud,
That o'er wild scenes of ocean-war
Holds its still course in Heaven afar:
E'en so, heart-searching Lord, as years roll on,
Thou keepest silent watch from Thy triumphal throne:

E'en so, the world is thronging round to gaze
On the dread vision of the latter days,
Constrained to own Thee, but in heart
Prepared to take Barabbas' part:
"Hosanna" now, to-morrow "Crucify,"
The changeful burden still of their rude lawless cry.

Yet in that throng of selfish hearts untrue
Thy sad eye rests upon Thy faithful few,
Children and childlike souls are there,
Blind Bartimeus' humble prayer,
And Lazarus wakened from his four days' sleep,
Enduring life again, that Passover to keep.

And fast beside the olive-bordered way
Stands the blessed home where Jesus deigned to stay,
The peaceful home, to Zeal sincere
And heavenly Contemplation dear,
Where Martha loved to wait with reverence meet,
And wiser Mary lingered at Thy sacred feet.

Still through decaying ages as they glide,
Thou lov'st Thy chosen remnant to divide;
Sprinkled along the waste of years
Full many a soft green isle appears:
Pause where we may upon the desert road,
Some shelter is in sight, some sacred safe abode.

When withering blasts of error swept the sky,
And Love's last flower seemed fain to droop and die,
How sweet, how lone the ray benign
On sheltered nooks of Palestine!
Then to his early home did Love repair,
And cheered his sickening heart with his own native air.

Years roll away: again the tide of crime
Has swept Thy footsteps from the favoured clime
Where shall the holy Cross find rest?
On a crowned monarch's mailed breast:
Like some bright angel o'er the darkling scene,
Through court and camp he holds his heavenward course serene.

A fouler vision yet; an age of light,
Light without love, glares on the aching sight:
Oh, who can tell how calm and sweet,
Meek Walton, shows thy green retreat,
When wearied with the tale thy times disclose,
The eye first finds thee out in thy secure repose?

Thus bad and good their several warnings give
Of His approach, whom none may see and live:
Faith's ear, with awful still delight,
Counts them like minute-bells at night.
Keeping the heart awake till dawn of morn,
While to her funeral pile this aged world is borne.

But what are Heaven's alarms to hearts that cower
In wilful slumber, deepening every hour,
That draw their curtains closer round,
The nearer swells the trumpet's sound?
Lord, ere our trembling lamps sink down and die,
Touch us with chastening hand, and make us feel Thee nigh.

-- John Keble (1792-1866)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Advent, Justification by Grace, Life of Faith

Yesterday's Gospel reading promised the coming of the Lord with "winnowing fork" in his hand. To my eye, Jesus did not repudiate that picture -- although he complicated it some. And that raises my perennial Advent question: When the Lord returns, what will he be looking for, what will he expect, what will he do?

Lutherans of a classic stripe seem content with their answer: If you simply allow Jesus to love you, it doesn't matter what you've done, who you are, why you have lived the way you have. As long as you don't put up a big "no" to him, he will usher you into his Father's kingdom.

I, of course, as a Lutheran, don't have total problem with that formulation. But I'm waiting for those "classic-stripe" Lutherans to deal with the Baptizer, the Sermon on the Mount, and all the rest.

I have recently discovered Paul Althaus' classic (I think) little monograph (in the old "Facets" seiers published by Fortress Press), Divine Command. I have happily learned that my view of the on-going validity of the Ten Commandments and of the commands of Jesus toward love of neighbor, justice in the marketplace, and the like has bona fide Lutheran bona fides.

I intend to set out some thoughts on Althaus' thesis in the near future, so for today, I'll simply make a comment and offer a quote. Lutheran talk about "justifiation by grace through faith" refers to "achieving salvation" -- i.e., it addresses what needs to be done to overcome the rift between being human and being acceptable to God. The Lutheran answer, consonant with the whole of Holy Scripture and most of the Great Tradition, is "nothing; God has taken the initiative to love us even in our most profound unlovablility."

Lutherans, unfortunately (and of course, not ALL Lutherans), stop there. All that matters, apparently, is day by day reassuring myself of my personal salvation by repeating the mantra, "I am saved by God's gracious loving act." The question which ought to occupy preachers, teachers, parents, and us is never addressed -- viz., "So what?" or "What are we to do with this?" or "Where do we go from here?" Those are questions of "sanctification" or "growth in grace" or "theosis" (I suppose). And the stereotypical Lutheran response is "Well, it pretty much doesn't matter, because your works don't matter."

That is an inappropriate response to questions of how to live if those questions do not rise out of questions about earning/meriting/keeping God's love, as Althaus makes clear (and as I shall try to explain later) and as this citation from St. Symeon the Theologian (thanks to Pontificator for the reference) also makes clear:

If we desire the kingdom of Heaven we must have great care and diligence and willingness in practising the commandments of God. In order to be saved, it is not sufficient to believe in the true God and to be Orthodox Christians. We must also fight “the good fight”, live “worth of the vocation we are called”, tht is to say perform Christian acts since we are baptised Christians and we are honoured with the name of Christ.

Let us not think that we shall be saved by faith alone. Faith without works do not benefit in anything. Of course the Lord said “he that believes and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned”, but He also said this “not every one that says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. If one would be saved by faith alone then everybody will easily secure salvation. Because “the devils also believe and tremble. As the body with out the soul is motionless and lifeless so faith without works is dead. Let us hear St. James the brother of God, who very lucidly stresses “what does it profit, my brethren, though a man says he has faith, and has no works?

Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, depart in peace, be warmed and filled; not withstanding you give them not those things which are needful to the body; what does it profit? Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone”. After these it is obvious that we must have works together with faith.

For this reason whoever believes in God and his providence shares out his money to the poor, hoping that he will receive “a hundredfold wage” and will inherit everlasting life. Whoever believes, struggles to be humble, repents for his sins, he is meek and peaceful, hates injustice and loves justice, because he remembers the verse from the Psalms “he who loves injustice hates his own soul”.

He who believes endures without grumbling every temptation in order to be crowned with the crown of the incorruptible glory. He is prudent and does not molest himself. He, who truly believes, is not lazy and negligent of prayer, does not condemn anybody and does not follow the “broad road”, but the “narrow and sorrowful road”. He does not love the world, neither parents, nor brothers and sisters nor wife and children, more than the Lord. Those who believe love the Lord and hate evil acts. They do not bear a grudge against his brother and do not return evil for evil. They do good to those who treat them badly, they bless those who curse them and they bear patiently those that persecute them.

Those who believe do not practise hypocrisy, flattering or person favouritism, because in all their activities they are straight, honest and sincere. They have no pride and are not magnanimous for the sake of praises and flattering that others give them. They detest the world of sin, following the exhortation of Apostle Paul “no man that war entangles himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who has chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strives for mysteries, yet he is not crowned, except he strives lawfully”.

Those who believe never lie, they are not greedy, they do not have Holy Communion without having confession, they do not condemn others. In brief, they follow carefully and steadfastly the way of the commandments of Christ and they have faith in Him, not in words but “in deeds and truth”. Do you now see how, those who believe live? So how can we consider somebody as faithful if he is poor in works?

If we truly believe, let us fight sin and abandon every evil that we have been doing so far. Let us struggle with willingness in order to be ready to stand before the Lord on the fearful day of Judgement. Let us wake up from the sleep of negligence. Let us correct our thoughts and let us drive away the evil thoughts. Let us try to fulfil the commandments of God, in order to be crowned by Him and to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

-- St Symeon the New Theologian

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

To continue a theme ...

To continue a theme:

The Theotokos has been revealed on the earth in truth,
Proclaimed of old by the words of the prophets,
Foretold by the wise patriarchs
and the company of the righteous.
She will exchange glad tidings with the honor of women:
Sarah, Rebecca, and glorious Hanna,
And Miriam, the sister of Moses.
All the ends of the earth shall rejoice with them,
Together with all of creation.
For God shall come to be born in the flesh,
Granting the world great mercy.

-- from the Orthodox liturgy, in Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha (St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mary in Advent

I missed the Immaculate Conception, a feast of which I confess little knowledge and with which I confess little sympathy. But given the incredibly beautiful literature that has flowered around that observation, I wonder yet again why Mary has fallen into that great well of unfamiliarity and disregard among even us Catholic-Evangelical proTESTants. In my stream of the tradition -- viz., middlle-of-the-road Lutheranism -- we have the model of our namesake to guide us: Luther was, by all accounts, devoted to the Virgin -- not of course, in the manner of many of his contemporaries, but sincerely reverential nonetheless. So, it seems to me, one need not be content with the Vatican's declarations of the origins and disposition of Our Lady to pay homage to her -- and homage we do indeed owe. Why, the sheer numbers of this and that for which she serves as metaphor (and more) would press that responisibility on us, let alone her literal place in the drama of salvation.

Today, I offer this from my favorite Christian poet, the deacon Ephrem of Syria (fourth century). Not only does he get so much right and beautiful, but he testifies to the earliness of the devotion paid to Mary, thereby demonstrating that while various Mary-cults may be a more recent development in Church history -- see Jaroslav Pelikan's book, Mary Through the Centuries -- the propriety of honoring her and even praying to her is not.

“O Immaculate and wholly-pure Virgin Mary”

O Immaculate and wholly-pure Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Queen of the world, hope of those who are in despair; thou art the joy of the Saints; thou art the peacemaker between sinners and God; thou art the advocate of the abandoned, the secure haven of those who are on the sea of the world; thou art the consolation of the world, the ransom of slaves, the comfortress of the afflicted, the salvation of the universe. O great Queen, we take refuge in thy protection: ‘We have no confidence but in thee, O most faithful Virgin.’ After God thou art all our hope. We bear the name of thy servants; allow not the enemy to drag us to Hell. I salute thee, O great Mediatress of peace between men and God, Mother of Jesus our Lord, who is the love of all men and of God, to whom be honor and benediction with the Father and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

St Ephrem the Syrian

It is part of Advent's "retting up" to honor His Mother as an aspect of awaiting The Lord's return. (Read the prayer carefully, and you may discover some of the sources of discomfort that force me to re-examine much that I take for granted about the Virgin, too.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

As Advent Approaches, ...

OK, boys and girls, Advent is ready to begin. And I'm thrilled: As some await Christmas morning, I await the Advent season -- its themes of eschatology and hope and expectation, its hymnody (I'm assured that the new ELCA "worship resource" -- don't get me going on that designation -- contains all the beloved Advent hymns from LBW; I'll check to see what else!), its challenges (to maintain it's-not-Christmas-yet in the midst of "It's Christmas Time in the City" -- which began playing about October 1). Advent is my favorite season, and I realize that that is a risky thing for someone to say who prizes liturgical scholarship and seriousness -- but it's true.

Key to Advent reflection ought to be the Virgin Mary and her wonderful song, what we call "Magnificat." If I were able to link music to this site (no, Sister Kate, if I were able to set music into this site), it would be versions of Mary's song.

Well, then, imagine my delight to see posted to the Christianity Today webmail page the reflection on the BVM -- the Blessed Valorous Mary -- by an evangelical who teaches at a quite conservative evangelical college. And then imagine my delight to discover that it's a high-quality, reverent, devotional reflection.

So at the risk of violating the Fair Use doctrine of the copyright act, I provide this re-print, rather than just a link, to this fine article by Scot McKnight, which I commend to you along with my wishes for a peaceful, inspiring, reverential, and radical Advent. (At the end of the piece is a link to the original.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Mary We Never Knew:
Why the mother of Jesus was more revolutionary than we've been led to believe.
Scot McKnight

There are two Marys. One wears a Carolina blue robe, exudes piety from a somber face, often holds her baby son in her arms, and barely makes eye contact with us. This is the familiar Blessed Virgin Mary, and she leads us to a Christmas celebration of quiet reflection.

Another Mary—the Blessed Valorous Mary—wears ordinary clothing and exudes hope from a confident face. This Mary utters poetry fit for a political rally, goes toe-to-toe with Herod the Great, musters her motherliness to reprimand her Messiah-son for dallying at the temple, follows her faith to ask him to address a flagging wine supply at a wedding, and then finds the feistiness to take her children to Capernaum to rescue Jesus from death threats. This Mary followed Jesus all the way to the Cross—not just as a mother, but as a disciple, even after his closest followers deserted him. She leads us to a Christmas marked by a yearning for justice and the courage to fight for it. Like other women of her time, she may have worn a robe and a veil, but I suspect her sleeves were rolled up and her veil askew more often than not.

Instead of asking what the real Mary was like, we tend to debate what she was not: whether she and Joseph refrained from sexual relations and whether she had a sin nature. A cursory reading of Jaroslav Pelikan's brilliant Mary Through the Centuries will acquaint any reader with the fulsomeness of such debates. Because Protestants have spent their time debating about Mary, they have rarely attempted to claim her as their own. Consequently, she has become little more than a delicate piece in a Christmas crèche, whom we bring out without comment at Christmas and then wrap up gently until we see her again next Advent.

But there are signs that those days are coming to an end. On the horizon today is nothing less than a Protestant reclamation of Mary, seen most completely in Tim Perry's new book, Mary for Evangelicals(InterVarsity, 2006). For the purposes of this article, we first need to ask, "Which Mary?" A good place to begin our search for answers is Mary's Magnificat. There we will discover not so much the Blessed Virgin Mary draped in piety, but the Blessed Valorous Mary dressed for action.


If we read the Magnificat as the heartfelt release of a woman yearning for what God was—finally!—about to do in Israel and in historical context, we see it as a call to subvert unjust leaders. To turn this song into simple spirituality strips it of its meaning and leaves injustices—personified by Caesar Augustus and Herod the Great—on the throne.

Luke tells us that as soon as the angel Gabriel left Mary, she hurried down to the home of her older relative, Elizabeth, to share the Good News. Mary knew that aging Elizabeth would also, by God's grace, give birth to a special son. As New Testament scholar R. T. France has noted so poetically, "One is old and has no children; the other is young and has no husband. But both are pregnant." And both are ready to announce the Good News to the world.

The moment Mary crosses the threshold of Elizabeth's home, the formerly barren woman bursts into a poetic blessing for Mary. Mary echoes back with what God is doing in her womb: "My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."

Mary rejoices over what Gabriel has told her and what Elizabeth has confirmed: Her son is the Son of David, the Messiah and future king. She exults that God is about to establish justice by ushering in the kingdom that all of Israel, especially the poor, have yearned for. Yes, like Hannah of old, she is happy that she will be a mother. Yes, she is happy that God has "been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name" (Luke 1:46-49).

But her next words move beyond the personal exultation of a poor, pregnant woman. They are a declaration—on the order of Luther pinning his 95 theses to the door—from a voice at the bottom of society. It is a voice crying from the depths that God's Messiah was finally bringing justice for the poor (such as Mary, Simeon, and Anna). It is a voice proclaiming a new order—an order centered on her son, the One who would save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).

If we want to enter the world of the real Mary that first Christmas, listen once again to her song in the context of Herod the Great. Herod, we might recall, had assassinated members of his own family for anything that even smelled of treachery. That same Herod had taxed Israel—felt more by the poor than by anyone else—beyond its means. Hear her words in that context. They are words of subversion, words that reveal why unjust rulers might worry over their public recitation, words that tell the first Christmas story:

His mercy extends to those who fear him,from generation to generation.He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.He has brought down rulers from their thronesbut has lifted up the humble.He has filled the hungry with good thingsbut has sent the rich away empty.He has helped his servant Israel,remembering to be mercifulto Abraham and his descendants forever,just as he promised our ancestors (Luke 1:50-55).

When Mary announced that God "has brought down rulers from their thrones," anyone within earshot knew what that meant for Herod the Great, if not also for Rome. And, in noting that God "sent the rich away empty," she pointed her finger at Herod the Great with his insatiable appetite. God "has lifted up the humble" and "has filled the hungry with good things" meant that Mary and the poor of Israel would experience justice.

Had Mary sung this song—and probably she sang it more than once—in Nazareth among the peasants of Israel, they would have hoisted a toast and shouted, "It's about time! Blessed be the Lord (and Mary)!"

I recall sitting in my high school gymnasium in 1970. During an all-school assembly, African American students, wearing black, sang "Black is Beautiful" and "We Shall Overcome." Their steely protest, expressed in song, was more than a concert. It was an announcement, much like the Magnificat, that a new day had dawned and that justice was about to roll down our hallways. Mary's Magnificat, like those songs of change, can be seen as a rally cry, a revival song. It subverted the unjust reign of Herod the Great.

If you were a poor woman in the first century, if you were hungry, if you had experienced the injustices of Herod, and if you stood up in Jerusalem and announced that God would yank down the proud, the rulers, and the rich from their high places, you likely would be tried for subversion. If you were Herod or one of his ten wives or one of his many sons or daughters with (unexpressed, of course) hopes for the throne, you would conclude that Mary was a rebel, a revolutionary, a social protester. And you would be right: The real Mary was a subversive.

We can quietly repeat the Magnificat during evening prayers, or we can stand with Mary, sing it full throttle, and declare that justice ultimately will be established. The Herods of this world will be dethroned because Mary's son, the newly conceived Son of David, has gained a foothold in our world. Herod dethroned and Jesus enthroned was Mary's rallying cry. You can paint the Blessed Virgin Mary as tender and a splendid example of spirituality, or you can celebrate the Blessed Valorous Mary, who heralded a socio-religious protest against injustice in the person of her own Messiah-son.

But there is much more to Mary's song than justice for the poor. Like the rest of those who followed Jesus, Mary would learn that Jesus ushered in a new kingdom not by wearing Herod's crown but by dying on a Cross, rising from the dead, and sending the Spirit. This is first hinted at by Simeon, when Jesus was presented in the temple: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed," he said. "And a sword will pierce your own soul too."

The hope for a political Messiah, as natural as it was for a people suffering under Roman oppression, would itself be subverted by an altogether different kind of Messiah—one who would establish justice by dying and rising for the forgiveness of sins. Justice for the poor would come not through political revolution but through God's kingdom and its vision for a new society, embodied in the church.

But the larger point remains: Mary, before anyone else, sees and announces the radical nature of Jesus' mission.


Subversive Mary was also dangerous—both to the powers that be and to anyone connected with her, especially Joseph and Jesus. To use today's parlance, we might say that Mary was "radioactive." We need only think of Herod wanting to know where Jesus was born so he could murder him—or of Herod's subsequent slaughter of the innocents. But Mary seemed unfazed.

"Nice girls," Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church writes, "don't change the world." It may seem counterintuitive, but Mary was not a "nice" girl. If "nice" means meek and mild and mind-your-own-business, then Mary scared the saintly piety out of nice girls. Mary minded Herod's business and, as we are about to see, Caesar Augustus', too. (She would later mind Jesus' business, before discovering that his business was his Father's business. But that's getting ahead of ourselves.)

"And it came to pass in those days," the King James Version of Luke 2:1 reads, "that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed." There is a reason why Luke tells us that Jesus' birth occurred during the reign of Caesar Augustus. Luke is contrasting the gospel of Rome with the gospel of Jesus.

Rome's gospel told of the significance of Caesar Augustus for the world. Rome's history took a new turn with Augustus, the adopted son of the dictator Julius Caesar. After his death, Julius Caesar was officially declared to be a god. When Augustus seized power, he was deemed a savior because he ended bitter civil wars and created the peace of Rome (pax Romana). The gospel of Rome was that Augustus, a "son of [a] god," saved Rome by bringing peace to the world.

Luke's Christmas story, told largely through the eyes of Mary, sets the birth of Christ in the context of the gospel of Rome. Luke counters and upstages each element in Rome's gospel—Good News, peace, the Son of God, and the Savior. The gospel that angels announced to Mary and the shepherds was the Good News that Jesus, the Son of God, was the Savior who would bring true peace to the world.

Gabriel tells Mary that the "holy one to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). Nine months later, angels tell the shepherds outside Bethlehem, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people" (Luke 2:10). Jesus, the Son of God, is the Good News for his people. Furthermore, the angel says, "Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord" (Luke 2:11). And then we hear a chorus of angels: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14).

Caesar Augustus supposedly was a savior, a son of a god who brought good news of peace to the world. Luke tells his readers that Jesus is the real Son of God, the Savior, who brings Good News of peace to the world. Not only do we have a tale of two Marys; we have a tale of two kings. Who, we are led to ask, will be the king? As with the Magnificat, so with Luke's story: Augustus dethroned, Jesus enthroned!

Mary in the Middle

Mary was in the middle of both of the angelic announcements. Gabriel appeared to Mary and, when the angels spoke to the shepherds, the shepherds reported their Good News to Mary and Joseph. Mary had a dangerous story to tell that would subvert injustice and establish justice through her son, the Messiah of Israel.

Luke says that Mary "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). The traditional take on Mary's pondering is that she quietly reflected, perhaps in a corner when everyone else was dancing and clapping, and then humbly kept everything inside. But in Scripture, the word ponder denotes observing and thinking and then interpreting (Gen. 37:11; Dan. 7:28). The language of pondering refers to Mary's deliberating in order to comprehend the divine plan now at work.

Mary was a subversive and she was dangerous, first, because she knew the identity of her son and, second, because she began to tell his story. Remember, Gabriel told Mary her son would be "Jesus" (Savior) and "Son of the Most High God" and that he would sit as a Davidic king on the eternal throne. At the bottom of the entire history of Christology are the titles and categories given to Mary to pass on to others. God first tells her the true identity of Jesus. Thus, we first learn to see who Jesus was and is through her witness. Mary was the only person in the world who could have told the stories that now appear in our Gospels. She alone heard the potent words of Gabriel; she alone was with Elizabeth; perhaps she is the one who told Luke about Zechariah's song; only she and Joseph knew about the shepherds and the magi.

Like Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin to reveal the injustice of slavery, or Harper Lee, whose To Kill a Mockingbird revealed the insidiousness of racial hypocrisy, Mary also had a (true) story to tell about her son. She took the terms Gabriel gave her—Son of God, Savior, Messiah—and began to interpret who he was and what he was to do.

The Gospels come from many voices, and one of those was Mary's. Her voice tells us what God would do through her son to subvert the injustices of Herod and the pretentiousness of Augustus. Her voice tells us that somehow, some way, someday, God would establish a kingdom of peace for the whole world. The real Mary, in the story rarely told, changed the world by surrendering to the angel Gabriel with three words: "May it be." And God used her to set loose the power of God, the gospel of the kingdom. This is the real Mary, and we need to reclaim her voice as our own.

Scot McKnight is the Karl A. Olsson professor in religious studies at North Park University, Chicago. This article is adapted from The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus (Paraclete, 2006).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Eve Names the Kiss"

Here's something pretty cool from First Things (Aug/Sept 2006):

Eve Names the Kiss
by Gwen Hart

He sat upon the garden wall.
She had her fingers on his knees.
The smallest leaves began to fall.
A subtle difference in the breeze

Prompted the tiger and the hare
to linger there. Even the snake
slithered closer so to hear
what sound she'd make. They'd heard him speak

a thousand times, define the world
from bumblebee to elephant.
His syllables were muscled, bold.
But she, they felt was different.

The future trembled on her lips.
Her mouth was like an apple split,
two halves as supple as her hips.
And when she said the word, he bit.


What do you think?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Simul justus et peccator"

Now that we (well, my brand of Lutheran we's, anyway) have liturgically celebrated the Reformation and all the saints, my mind and eye were drawn to this posting from Pontificator in which he provides an excerpt from Han Urs von Balthasar's analysis of Karl Barth's theology as it has to do with the Lutheran formulation "simul justus et peccator." It has seemed to me one of the central constructs of a properly Lutheran anthropology is that pithy formulation -- more or less translated as "at the same time justified/saint and sinner." In fact, that phrase, perhaps more than any other, sets me on the path of "ethics." So to see one of the most suggestive and complex minds in modern Roman Catholic theology sets his cap to address this ultra-Lutheran proposition, I have to attend.

I haven't, by any means, finished my own decoding of -- let alone thinking about -- von Balthasar's "catholic" correction to what he understands Barth's understanding of Luther to be. It is typically von Balthasar -- sometimes dense, poetic, usually translated with latin phrases that may or may not bear technical meaning (something lost on me), and always rich and inspirational. But I confess to being put off when he writes that "Luther's formula seems oversimplified and flat." Oh, I have heard little from Lutherans that rivals the beauty of his drawing the paradox of a life declared and being made justified lived amidst a living of sin. But I'm not sure that it's fair to Luther to blame him for the failure of later interpreters (even Blessed Brother Karl Barth) to deliver the subtlty. (And I'm not sure that Barth fails in that regard: I'm going from von Balthasar.)

I think von Balthasar gets it right here: "...[T]he Catholic will insist that the 'forensic' character of grace and justification be correlated with the toerh sense of justification (A side that the Reformers of course did not totally neglect but still slighted too much): that is, as the beginning of a process of real sanctification -- real, because it give a real partaking in the merits of Christ and in the divine life opened up by him." But is it really fair to claim that the Reformers failed to correlate the great doctrine of justification by faith with "real partaking." I think that I've gotten that insight precisely from the Reformers -- if not, alas, their heirs and successors.

I'd be interested in your responses to this relatively short extract. (That's a direct challenge to you, Brother Paul in Wannaska: You're my neo-gnesio-Lutheran on this matter -- no offense.) It seems ripe with insights into living -- and guiding the living of -- the life of faith.

Post-Election Thoughts of Little Theological Significance

Well, dear ones, election day is over (thank the Good Lord) and, even though I am not a Democrat, I am gloating a little today. (Here comes a kind of partisan screed, from one who is a member of no organized political party.)

The voting was good for (progressives in)Minnesota -- I think. The Governorship stayed with a real jerk -- good evangelical that he is, he has no compunction about lying, distorting, smirking, using almost exclusively negative ads, and all the other "worldly things" that we expect candidates to do. (In fact, there seems to be no distinguishing characteristic of the Christians who run for office: They're as down-and-dirty as the sleaziest among us.) But we progressives elected Minnesota's first woman senator (heself a Democrat to replace a kind of nincompoop Democrat), America's first Muslim to the US House (he may have run the most above-board campaign I'm aware of -- despite being the object of a sinister and highly racist attack by his Republican opponent who stressed that "as a Jew, I am offended" by Keith and by the Republican National Campaign Committee, which did everything but outright assert that Keith would be a Mulim Manchurian candidate in the House), re-took the State House (by a significant margin) and strengthened the majority in the Senate. And of especial interest to me personally: Minneapolis approved "instant run-off voting" (IRV).

IRV allows one to vote for the best candidate without fearing that s/he is "wasting" a vote on a candidate that is too idealistic or good to win. Under the system, one ranks the candidates according to one's preference. If no candidate prevails (and I THINK, without knowing for sure, that means that no candidate gets a majority), then the lowest-voted candidate gets dropped from the running and the votes cast for him/her are examined to see who those voters named "no. 2." Those votes are then re-cast for the second-preferred candidate. And the process continues, dropping candidates in like fashion and re-calculating the votes until one candidate wins (again: I think with a majority, not a plurality of the votes).

I'm sure progressives face the same issue all the time: There's a third-party candidate that sounds really good, but who has virtually no chance to win. I don't feel that I can vote for her strategically, because my vote becomes, in effect, a vote for the worst candidate on the ballot. So I have to "hold my nose" and vote for my second-favorite. Well, IRV will help address that to some extent. If the Green Party candidate is best, but unlikely to win, then I can rank her "1" and name the next-favored candidate "2."

I like the idea. I believe that Christians are called to live -- and vote -- in hope. We need not succumb to cynicism or immoral compromise, even in our civic life. But it's hard to live with the results of living hopefully -- voting for the least-bad of candidates, watching important issues trivialized into absurdity, and the like. And worse, it's hard knowing that while I may be able to live with my choices, others may literally not.

So I look forward to this experiment (an experiment, incidentally, not unique to Minneapolis) and hope to see it spread state-wide in the future. (Maybe those Democratic majorities will help that. But I'm not too sanguine: I don't exactly have confidence that the Democratic majorities will be able to keep together to get much done. They don't seem to like to hew to the party line the way Republicans do.)

I'm sure that this has some Christian ethics point that I could make, but I'm not going to stretch to do that today. For now, because there has been so little for progressives to crow about, I'll just enjoy a little smugness for a day or two.

As a progressive Minnesotan, I'm pretty excited by the election of Keith Ellison to the House. I was in law school with Keith, so I know him a little. And I wasn't a supporter at first. But we saw him run an issues-focussed campaign (despite the Republican attacks), free of personal attacks. He had wide-scale support among all sectors of the local public -- including Jews. And despite a serious lack of organizational skills in his personal life (he has a lot of unpaid parking tickets; he has file campaign reports late; he owes or owed back taxes), he has demonstrated himself to be a very capable, cooperative, and consensus-building legislator. So it's sort of exciting to see him tested on the national level. I wonder where else than Minnesota that a Roman-Catholic-turned-Muslim black man could be elected with a true majority of the votes, despite the lack of support of the retiring member of congress and a very attractive independent candidate claiming some of the reliably "leftist" vote? Congratulations, Keith.

I noted that, even as a progressive, I don't mean to imply that Democratic party majorities will solve -- or even begin to address -- all or most of the social ills that desperately need to be faced. (I'm frankly amazed that the Dems managed to pull off as many victories as they did: There is among Dems a latent self-destruct impulse.) As the saying goes, trying to get Democrats to work together toward a common goal is like herding cats (or chickens). There seems to be little constitutional difference in moral stature between the two parties when it comes to arrogance, willingness to abuse power, institutionalized self-interest. I hope that "Nancy Pelosi and her San-Franciso values" can make some changes there. And so I shall hold on to a little hope that yesterday was the beginning of some improvements in our civic life.

I think that as a Lutheran Christian, I have some responsibility to work for the betterment of society -- to pray for the government (not, as seems the case in some corners of Christianity, TO the government), to advocate for the poor and powerless: You know, that Sermon on the Mount stuff (which I read to set out political, and not merely personal, practices). And on that basis, I'm happier today than I was yesterday.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Ted Haggard -- And All That

The recent misfortune, scandal, undeniable evidence of the reality of sin in the world, or great come-uppance - the term one employs, I guess, depends on your inclination – involving Ted Haggard, the until-recently wonderboy head the of National Association of Evangelicals, head of his own giga-church, and self-promoted star in the fight against homosexuality, has had me going in circles.

As a plain-old person, I grieve for him (somewhat). I especially sympathize for his wife and family, who through no fault of their own, will be humiliated, shunned (at least I expect so), and treated as somehow complicit in the man's sin and crimes. As a Christian, I cannot be surprised that sin infects even major Christian leaders. (As a Lutheran, I subscribe simul Justus et peccator in bold and italicized ink.) And I certainly wish for him genuine repentance, forgiveness, renewal, and reconciliation (certainly with his family). As a lawyer, I wonder why he has not been arrested, given that he has already admitted to committing felonies. As a man and a husband and a father, I am outraged and horrified that he, similarly situated in such fiduciary relationships, could and would try to pull off some sort of double life. As a left-winger or progressive or “liberal” (an adjective I do not accept for myself, but one that is regularly applied to me), I take some Schadenfreude-like delight in his having been revealed for the scumbag and liar that he clearly is. (For heaven’s sake, he even lied once he was caught!) And as someone who expects things from leaders, I am appalled at how arrogant and stupid the man is to think that he was going to get away with whatever he was doing.

But how to make some sense – some evangelical sense – about the event? I am not particularly interested, I confess to my shame, in yet offering a word of grace to Mr. Haggard. I have no evidence that he is penitent or that he has humbled himself enough to hear a word of costly grace. But I recognized, intellectually, that the man needs help. On the other hand, I am wont to crow about the misfortunes of bigots, and I account Mr. Haggard high in that ranking. Of course, he was also helping the religious right-wing to see the importance of such issues as care for the earth and economic justice. So I fear that his fall will allow the retrenchment within the politically right-wing Christian movement of irresponsibility for the Creation (human and earthly).

I am grateful that I have been assisted in this matter by none less than my friends, the editors at Christianity Today. From their online edition, I have read George MacDonald’s meditation on these circumstances. And I have been very impressed. I think he deals with the matter in a most serious, evangelical, sensible, and responsible way. I hope his words receive wide distribution.

Please read his blog entry here.

I also note, with a certain glee, that Christianity Today presented about three articles on the situation, and in one of them, Haggard was noted to have been accused of using the services of a gay male masseuse! See here. (For those who don’t get the joke: Masseuse is feminine; it refers to a female massage-giver. “Masseur” is the masculine – and the applicable noun in this context.) I guess that goes to show that there is still, among the diligent and sincere Christian right, a certain level of naivete about the seamier sides of life.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Economic Politics

What follows is not a theological consideration; Matt Miller doesn't spend much time writing about the Christian dimensions of economic life in this country. But his is an interesting theory -- worth pondering in this time of vast economic inequality. Because Christians ought to be concerned for justice (which out to roll down like waters) and righteousness (... an ever-flowing stream), the issue of vast wealth and its (mis)use ought to concern us.

To be honest, however, I post this column to satisfy some of my progressive-socialist political tendencies.

Matt Miller's latest Fortune column,

NOT LONG AGO an investment banker worth millions told me that he wasn't in his line of work for the money. "If I was doing this for the money," he said, with no trace of irony, "I'd be at a hedge fund." What to say? Only on a small plot of real estate in lower Manhattan at the dawn of the 21st century could such a statement be remotely fathomable. That it is suggests how debauched our ruling class has become.

The widening chasm between rich and poor may well threaten our democracy. Yet if that banker's lament staggers your brain as it did mine, you're on your way to seeing why America's income gap is arguably less likely to spark a retro fight between proletarians and capitalists than a war between what I call the "lower upper class" and the ultrarich.

Here's my outlandish theory: that economic resentment at the bottom of the top 1% of America's income distribution is the new wild card in public life. Ordinary workers won't rise up against ultras because they take it as given that "the rich get richer." But the hopes and dreams of today's educated class are based on the idea that market capitalism is a meritocracy. The unreachable success of the superrich shreds those dreams.

"I've seen it in my research," says pollster Doug Schoen, who counsels Michael Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton, among others. "If you look at the lower part of the upper class or the upper part of the upper middle class, there's a great deal of frustration. These are people who assumed that their hard work and conventional 'success' would leave them with no worries. It's the type of rumbling that could lead to political volatility."

Lower uppers are doctors, accountants, engineers, lawyers. At companies they're mostly executives above the rank of VP but below the CEO. Their comrades include well-fed members of the media (and even FORTUNE columnists who earn their living as consultants). Lower uppers are professionals who by dint of schooling, hard work, and luck are living better than 99% of the humans who have ever walked the planet. They're also people who can't help but notice how many folks with credentials like theirs are living in Gatsby-esque splendor they'll never enjoy. This stings.

If people no smarter or better than you are making ten or 50 or 100 million dollars in a single year while you're working yourself ragged to earn a million or two—or, God forbid, $400,000—then something must be wrong.

You can hear the fallout in conversations across the country. A New York--based market research guru—a well-to-do fellow who's built and sold his own firm—explodes in a rant about ultras bidding up real estate prices. A family doctor in Los Angeles with two kids shakes his head that between tuition and donations, ultras have raised the ante for private school slots to the point where he can't get his kids enrolled. A senior executive at a nationally known firm seethes at the idea of eliminating the estate tax; it is an ultra conspiracy, in his view, a reprehensible giveaway to people whose outsized lucre bears little relation to hard work. As one civic-minded lower-upper businessman told me, even his charity now feels insignificant: When buyout kings plunk down $1 million for a youth or arts group, his $20,000 contribution doesn't get him the right to co-chair a dinner, let alone a seat on the board.

There's only so much of this a smart, vocal elite can take before the seams burst—and a bilious reaction against unmerited privilege starts oozing from every pore. Especially when it's clear to lower uppers that many ultras are reaping the rewards of rigged systems: CEOs who preside over tumbling stock prices, hedge fund managers who barely beat the market. It may seem far-fetched to think a revolt against extreme inequality will be led by posh professionals. But the conversations above suggest there's a potent political opening for a "comeuppance agenda."

Eliot Spitzer, an ultra by birth (like F.D.R.), has shown the power of turning against the sleazy self-dealing of his class. Once Spitzer's crusades against greed sweep him into the New York governor's mansion next month, imitators may follow. Shame as a strategy to constrain avarice may come back into fashion.

Like I said, it's just a theory. It could be sour grapes. But if I were in this for the money, I'd bet there was something to it.

***MATT MILLER is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the author of The 2% Solution: Fixing America's Problems in Ways Liberals and Conservatives Can Love.
Listen to Matt's radio show "Left Right & Center"

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Reflections on the Rich Young Man

Mass this past Sunday gave me an incentive to pick up on my promise to deal with “holiness” in the Christian life. My friend Rob preached in the place of our vacationing pastor. And, as is so often the case, he gave me boat loads to think on.

Rob is a fine preacher and presider. As a preacher, Robis remarkable, to my ear, for his ability to be speak in a formal and elevated style (which also characterizes his presence) while employing a plainspokenness and accessibility in language and structure that together give the sermon a sense of importance and of its role as a liturgical act. That was true of Sunda’s sermon, too (which you can read here). As usual, nothing he said was wrong. He engaged the text and spoke from there, wrestling with the “troubles” in the text, and not taking the easy way out. But still, I hoped for a little more. All I can wish is that I could convince him to be a little less either old-school Lutheran or in thrall to Robert Farrar Capon (whom I know he likes, even if he didn't quote him in this sermon).

Yesterday’s texts included Amos’ advocacy of economic justice and the famous encounter between Jesus and the rich young man, who went away sad when he could not sell all that he owned and give the proceeds to the poor. It was a textual convergence to make the heart of a North Dakota democratic socialist sing. And there were many good things in the sermon to hearten a jaded Minnesotan sick of hearing about how the gospel really boils down to a salve for our neuroses.

Rob correctly pointed out that Jesus did not offer the standard “Lutheran” answer to the young man’s inquiry, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”: “Nothing! There’s nothing you need to do, nothing you can do. Eternal life is a gift. It’s all about grace, you see.” Not that there’s anything wrong with the answer, I suppose, for Lutherans. There is, of course, nothing that we can do to inherit eternal life; it is most certainly pure gift.

The only problem is that is not what Jesus says in the pericope – as Rob correctly and diligently pointed out. Instead, echoing Amos’ jeremiad (to mix my prophets), Jesus calls on the young man to keep the commandments. Then, when the young man says that he already does so (how cocky of him so to think, a Lutheran might say!), Jesus calls on him to divest himself of all his property and to give the proceeds from the divestiture to the poor. Jesus notes that fulfilling the law of God requires freedom – freedom from the constraints of this world and freedom for service to God. He commends a kind of freedom that is built on an ascetic release of and from “stuff” (as Rob called it) – i.e., material, social, spiritual, and emotional attachments that get in the way of worship. Stuff is one measure of our disbelief in the Gospel: It is likely that the more we “need” or crave stuff, the less our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths are screwed in correctly and the less we worship only the true God.

When the young man goes away, Jesus reflects on how difficult it is for rich people to attain heaven, but he then concludes on the hope-filled note that with God, what is impossible for people is radically possible. (Too bad the young man didn’t stay around to hear!) And Rob did an eloquent, almost poetic, job of expositing how that possibility has worked itself out in history – e.g., in conception by a virgin, in conversion of water into wine, in resurrection from a crucifixion-caused death.

And then Rob concluded by rephrasing this positive note as an answer to the young man in all of us:

So then, who can be saved? Can that wealthy man who walked away from Jesus be saved? Can we? Can we be saved, Brothers & Sisters?

For humans – we who are sinful, selfish, scared, & stubborn – were salvation all up to us – that would be impossible.

But, thanks be, it’s not up to us. It’s up to God, and with God – who is demanding, dedicated, full of amazing grace and steadfast love – with God nothing is impossible.
Hear the good news,with God nothing is impossible.


And so the sermon ended. And a good, orthodox ending it was – except … .

As my wife said to me later, “Rob let us off the hook.” There are in this conclusion overtones of the very Lutheran answer that Rob suggested was not quite on point: Don’t worry if you are over-invested in your possessions. God can make salvation happen regardless of what we do or don't do. Jesus did not let the young man off the hook: He waited until the young man had gone to make his point about how nothing is impossible for God. The existential hook of the Gospel was preserved for the young man. But implied in Rob's conclusion was that we need not face such an existentially troubling problem.

Is that enough said? Is all Jesus' talk (e.g., here and in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain) just meant, in terms of the classic satire of Lutheran ethics, to suggest that there’s nothing we can do, so relax because there’s nothing to do? Or, an even worse parody, is Jesus’ talk about the need for holy living merely “aspirational” or (in lawyer talk) “precatory” – good advice, but not finally existentially demanding? Since there’s nothing we can do to be saved, does it ultimately not matter how we live?

What’s missing from this approach – and from Rob’s sermon – is the recognition, affirmation, and integration that “with God,” giving up the stuff of this earth is not impossible. Because the same Jesus who deterred that rich young (earnest, sincere) man is the same Jesus risen from the dead, we are ABLE to reduce our dependency on material, spiritual, emotional, and other “stuff” that trips us up on our duty to and journey of following Jesus. If the Gospel is true, we can sell all (OK, as I note below, I’ll compromise on that “all”) that we have and give it to the poor and then follow Jesus. And this is so, not so that we can somehow “earn” eternal life (for that has already been given), but because Jesus lives. Because Jesus was raised, not only are the commands of the Lord binding, but they are also possible.

Now, I admit that we live in the in-between times, so “perfect obedience” to the law of God is impossible – and, even with God’s help, unlikely – because Sin continues to have some power in the world (even in its death throes begun with the Resurrection). But by virtue of baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit which baptism bestows, we are already (in anticipation of the final times) empowered to grow in grace, to grow in our ability to live in faithfulness, to do what is impossible. Furthermore, because of the company we keep – viz., the very continuing Body of Christ in the world – we are encouraged, upheld, corrected, reconciled,, to live the life that God the Father intends. We are made holy – not just in some theoretical or forensic way, but in earthy and practical ways. We have, for example, available to us the service of the Holy Spirit to address our financial insecurities so that we worry less about remaining financially “liquid” and more about sharing our wealth with those who are not as wealthy as we.

The call to repentance and belief (which is what Jesus was calling the rich young man to) is not a call to hang in there, doing what we’re doing, counting on God to look the other way(or at least hoping he does), to change his mind, to re-think his commandments. It is, instead, the call to lay hold of the power of God precisely to live as he has set out the way. The people of God are a holy people – “holy,” not just by virtue of his claiming them (a conviction I do not deny), but “holy,” too, because in them He has invested his Spirit that they might be his reflection, his image, in the world. We are the Body of Christ, not just in metaphorical terms, but in actual, literal, and “real” terms.

It is not impossible: We are not prevented from being a holy people; we can give up (at least much of) what we own and give the proceeds to the poor – or even give that very “stuff” to the poor – and follow Jesus. (A serious question, of course, is whether we can retain hold and ownership of our stuff and yet follow Jesus: It is difficult, per Jesus, to be wealthy and to enter the kingdom of heaven. And that we are all wealthy is, I think, indisputable. It may be that to raise the question at all is to deny that we wish eternal life -- except, that is, on our own terms.)

Nothing that I have said denies anything that Rob said in his sermon. But my concern is that such “free grace” preaching hardens hearts – or at least leaves space for Satan to harden hearts – to the radical demands of God that his people be holy even as he is holy. It requires no real death, no metanoia, no difference. And that, my brothers and sisters, is cheap grace – which Bonhoeffer ought to have convinced us is not Gospel, no matter how secure and comfortable it makes us feel. And “cheap grace” leaves us in our damned old condition.

Of better news is that the grace of God has been released in the world (together with or as the Spirit of God) to redeem us, lost and condemned creatures, and to make us into the Body of Christ, the very means of bringing the Gospel to the world.

And as much as I enjoyed the journey on which Rob took our congregation, that’s the direction I wish he had pointed and pushed us.

A final, personal note to Rob, if you read this: Of course, one cannot say everything in a sermon, and I am holding you to what may be an unreasonably high standard. I acknowledge that. You have given me the launching pad for my criticism of most preaching I hear in the Church today -- preaching that ignores the fundamental power of the Spirit to make the Church the Church, in favor of a lame feel-good, pseudo-psychology. You are in no way particularly guilty of that problem (in fact, I’d say you are much less inclined than most I hear!). So please try to take this commentary in the spirit in which I offer it, but poorly express it – a plea for more Lutheran reflection on holiness or sanctification!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Why did he say it?

I'll say it out loud: I love this Pope. I have long had enormous respect for his intellect, his literacy, his lyrical writing (or, perhaps. that of his translators). And I expect good things on the ecumenical front from him.

That's why I am stunned and confounded by the furor he created with his remarks in the "Aula Magna" of the University of Regensburg. What on earth was the point of his scandalous repeat of a scurrilous claim by a fourteenth-century Byzantine emperor to the effect that nothing good came from Mohammed? Oh, I recognize that somewhere in there is his desire to discountenance "forced conversion" or "spreading the faith through violence" (Benedict's words) because it is "unreasonable." But why the quote? Why this most inflammatory quote? Why this quote that does injustice to the good that has been fostered by and under Muslim rule in various lands?

He knew what he was doing: Benedict is way too smart to include something this harsh "by accident." And he must have known that it would cause incredible offense -- and, I add, not just to Muslims, because it is slanderous. And if it is, as he has suggested in his follow-up statements and semi-apology, a surprise that anyone would take take personal umbrage from his remarks in the context of an academic lecture, then I am forced to wonder whether he is way too naive to serve as the voice and spiritual head of a huge block of Christians.

And I think his advisers (and here I am, advising the Pope's legions!) had better look to the effects of his example. Already, the Catholic blogs -- including the Pontificator's usually admirable blog -- are filling with vile anti-Muslim and anti-Arab vituperation. Here's a sample from a response to one blog that echoed the ancient emperor's claim that Muslims have contributed anything to society:

Well, as a (formerly) non-extremist Catholic I can honestly tell you, the
over-reaction to the Pope's WORDS, following on from the treatment of that
Danish cartoonist, has left me feeling extremely hostile toward Muslims
everywhere and hoping that my church rises up to use it's far superior firepower
to wipe this ugly blemish of a religion from the face of the planet! Yes, that's
right, I, a non-hostile Catholic, has become so angered by these animals that I
now hope they DO bring their f***ing Jihad here and get wiped out once and for
all by my God-fearing, peaceful church.

(This was copied directly from the blog; the errors in grammar are original and the cute stars are, too.) Lamentably, Pontificator linked to the originial blog that inspired this reaction (the point of which was to agree with the orginal post), and that's how I came to read it.

I have heard (thanks to Vatican commentators in print and on TV) that this pope does not favor interreligious dialogue. I have no idea what that means. And I know that he intends to distinguish his approach vis-a-vis Islam from his predecessor's (which, apparently, he considered too lenient). And I can understand the need for honest confrontation with the thorny issues involving the interweaving of Koran and terrorism. (I think, too, that there is plenty of room for self-examination on the same issue regarding the Bible. There's a certain matter of Crusades, for example.)

But none of that requires or justifies the insertion into an otherwise rather rational paper (I think he'd appreciate the pun there) of a gratutitous and alarmingly simplistic (that is to say, unreasonable) slam against an enormously popular religion.

I hope someone can help me to see the reason -- which the Pope was touting in his lecture -- in all of this!

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Desire for Unity in the Church

Brother Pontificator (thanks to him, once again) put me on to this talk given by Fr. Thomas Hopko, late of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary. In the article Hopko, addressed a Roman Catholic (RC) society that seeks to foster dialogue between RCs and eastern-rite (presumably RC and Orthodox?) members. In the talk, Hopko makes what is for me the single most important statement about what is at issue in on-going theological/ecumenical dialogues. To quote him:

... [M]y opinion is that what is really required of the Orthodox most of all
above everything, is a real desire for unity…to want to be one, to suffer over
the division, to weep over it, to carry it around like a sword in your soul that
we who claim Christ and praise God in Christ (especially in this world which is
getting less and less Christian as the clock ticks), that Christians would be
He goes on to suggest, to lament that the Orthodox do not even feel that about disunity within the orbit of Orthodoxy -- let alone about the wider disunity of the Church. He accuses his own tradition, then, of not wanting unity.

And I think that that is true of all traditions. We have grown so hard-hearted with respect to the "unity" of the Church that we are perfectly content to pray for unity and do not one thing to try to achieve that or to allow the Spirit to do her work and get it done. (Yes, I do believe that we can impede the work of God in this world, which is why I take comfort in His eschatological promises).

What Hopko lays on Orthodoxy is true in spades of Lutheranism. (I could rant on, too, about its truth in Roman Catholicism -- I have, in fact, characterized its ecumenical posture as "Y'all can come on back to us anyday. But I'll stick to throwing stones in my own yard today.) We Lutherans positively relish in our "truth," in our "fullness," in our theological integrity. And we resist any effort to suggest that the unity of the Church is a big issue -- that to have the Body of Christ chopped up is a scandal of huge proportions. Oh, we cite the "satis est" of CA 7 (older translation: "... it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike.") and see therein confirmation of our posture to stand firm since we (perhaps we alone) have the truth.

I did a little acting in college and one of the roles I really enjoyed was that of Johann von Staupitz in John Osborne's very Ericsonian play, Luther. (Without too much background, but based on some things I have read -- especially from David Steinmetz -- I'm inclined to think that the portrayal of von Staupitz was pretty accurate, even though the picture of Luther was way inaccurate,) As von Staupitz, I was charged with urging Luther "don't think that you -- only you -- are right." That's good counsel to us who follow in Luther's steps (supposedly) and bear his name.

Hopko rightly asserts that to pray for the unity of the Church and do nothing is blasphemous. That may be semi-Pelagian (as I guess Orthodox are allowed), but it's still correct.

I am increasingly convinced that the "unity" of the Church does not, pace CA7, depend on an institutional reunion. I think a kind of "communion of communions" is probably the way we ought to think. But we may not, even in such thinking, give up on the strenuous and often disheartening work of re-establing the One Communion among Christ's people.

In that spirit, Hopko invites us all to examine our consciences and the practices of our individual traditions.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

"Jesus Died for You"

Nothing highlights my theological naivete and incompetence better than intramural Lutheran disagreements. But I'm going out on another limb today.

At the urging of a dear friend, I have been reading (and in some cases, re-reading) Gerhard Foerde, late professor of theology at Luther Seminary and one of the most consistent and persistent exponents of a view of Lutheran theology that I find problematic. (Foerde's name should be spelled with that Norwegian vowel that is an "o" with a slash through it, but I don't know how to transliterate that. In my experience, most publishers simply print it as an "o," but the Norwegian in me takes umbrage at that. So I've done my best by using the convention for a German o-umlaut.) Now I have already admitted that I think there is much of value in Foerde's thought, but I am troubled by a insistent lack of room for "sanctification" or "growth in grace." It seems to me that his writing portrays the life of faith as a kind of Sisyphean circle of sin-forgiveness-sin-forgiveness, always returning to point "O" every day. But my friend (dare I name you, Paul?) insists both that I am being somewhat unfair and that there is, nevertheless, every reason for seeing things precisely that way (although he has denied my charge that Foerde runs close to antinomianism -- which is a very un-Lutheran path to trod).

Comes this sermon that I read last night: "Jesus Died for You" from the collection of Foerde's writings, A More Radical Gospel: Essays on Eschatology, Authority, Atonement, and Ecumenism, edited by Mark Mattes and Steve Paulson. I read the sermon because it's short and I thought that, because it's a sermon, it might give me insights that I miss from the more academic stuff I've read. Well, it gave me an insight all right, but not one that I am at all comfortable with.

Let me quote: "Jesus died for you. This is all he really did in the days of his flesh that is truly for you. He died. He refused to do anything else. ... So his mission was -- finally -- to die. And it was -- for you."

Surely, I immediately thought, that is not right! Oh, I have no problem with "and it was -- for you." Pro nobis, pro me -- what Christian thinker will deny that? But is it true that all the earthly Jesus (and there was no other Jesus, it seems to me -- although I'm wrestling with how to fit the human-Jesus into the Trinity after the Ascension) did that ultimately matters is to die?

Even if you give it the spin I did in the previous sentence, it's still all wrong, it seems to me. While the shadow of the cross lands across the manger, the birth of Jesus was "for you," too. The teaching, and healing, and exorcising, and excoriating, and eating with outcasts and sinners, and making wine, and forgiving sins was also "for you." And all of that is of a piece with his dying. The face of God shone forth in all of his life -- not just in his death. Oh, we cannot overstate the importance of the death, but we cannot divorce that death from the rest of his life -- any more than we can overlook that his death was ultimately meaningless without the Resurrection. (Foerde also seems to suggest in the sermon that the meaning of the Resurrection was simply to put the imprimatur on the death -- not on the man and the life!)

Lamentably, I think later paragraphs of the sermon highlight that he can't make his claim stick. He implicitly acknowledges that the death of Christ was perhaps an inevitable outcome of his life and living. "He dies. That is all he can do in the end." And that isn't nearly so problematic as the dogmatic statement at the beginning of the sermon.

Foerde concludes this way: "... So now, he alone gives us life, life triumphant over the law, sin, and death that threatens [sic] always to consume us. Jesus died to give us this gift. Jesus died for you."

But did not he also live to precisely that point? And if that "life triumphant" is a reality, does it not begin in the world where we live? Isn't it more than some airy dream "in the sweet by-and-by"?

I'm tempted to raise the question asked of me by my favorite skeptical interrogator while I was a pastor: "But of what earthly good is this Jesus?" On what seems to me to be a similar line (and I don't mean to be utilitarian): Why do the Gospels spend so much time on Jesus' life, if all that matters was his death? And similarly, doesn't this give credence to the claim that for Lutherans, what really matters is the crucifixion -- with the Resurrection as a kind of add-on?

Sorry, dear one, but I'm not convinced yet!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Literary Interlude

In anticipation of discussing the work with my fiction book group, I have finished my third or fourth reading of Robertson Davies’ masterful Fifth Business, the first novel in his “Deptford Trilogy.” (I am terribly conflicted about whether Wendell Berry or Robertson Davies, among the people I read regularly gives me the greatest joy. But perhaps I don’t have to choose.) I expect to have some more things to say about it, but this weekend as I was reveling in the story, my eye and mind were drawn to one particular passage that I have failed to pay much attention to. I think that oversight indicates some really sloppy reading on my part, because I think the paragraph I cite below highlights and focuses one of the major themes of the book. But I don’t want to say more than that now.

The speaker, Padre Blazon, is an ancient Jesuit priest who is a member of the Bollandist Society. (This is a real-life group that is dedicated to the collection of virtually everything there is on saints. The main character of Davies’ novel, Dunstan Ramsay, is a boarding-school teacher whose (a)vocation is research into saints, and so it is only natural that he should eventually be attracted to the Bollandists.) Padre Blazon charges himself with imparting some aspects of wisdom to the younger Ramsay (“Ramezay,” as he calls him). And below is one paragraph of his instruction.

Somewhat defensively, I suppose, I acknowledge up front that Davies is not a theologian (which makes him even more fun to read); that, in fact, Davies threw out much of the baby with the bathwater when he rejected the sour Calvinism of his youth; and that some of my own enthusiasm for the quote is that is comes from a character that Davies paints in a way as vivid and bright as Shakespeare paints Falstaff. (Having studied with Father Godfrey Diekmann, of blessed memory, at St. John’s Abbey and University, I rather hopefully picture that Godfrey might have been a little like Padre Blazon, had Godfrey lived well into his 100s.)

I’d be curious to hear/see what you make of it. I hope and think the paragraph makes sense on its own, cut from its context.

Thus Padre Blazon:

My own idea is that when He [i.e., Jesus Christ] comes again it will be to
continue his ministry as an old man. I am an old man and my life has been spent
as a soldier of Christ, and I tell you that the older I grow the less Christ’s teaching says to me. I am sometimes very conscious that I am following the path of a leader who dies when He was less than half as old as I am now. I see and feel things He never saw or felt. I know things He seems never to have known. Everybody wants a Christ for himself and those who think like him. Very well, am I at fault for wanting a Christ who will show me how to be an old man? All Christ’s teaching is put forward with the dogmatism, the certainty, and the strength of youth: I need something that takes account of the accretion of experience, the sense of paradox and ambiguity that comes with years! I think after forty we should recognize Christ politely, but turn for our comfort and guidance to God the Father, who knows the good and evil of life, and to the Holy Ghost, who possesses a wisdom beyond that of the incarnated Christ. After all, we worship a Trinity, of which Christ is but one Person. I think when He comes again it will be to declare the unity of the life of the flesh and the life of
the spirit. And then perhaps we shall make some sense of this life of marvels,
cruel circumstances, obscenities, and commonplaces. Who can tell? – we might
even make it bearable for everybody.

Although I didn't intend to add this, I can't resist one more paragraph. Later in the novel, Ramsay looks up Padre Blazon, who is in a kind of hospice, cared for by some nuns. At their parting, Ramsay asks his friend whether he has found a God to teach him how to be old (confessing that he himself had not yet done so). Padre Blazon responds with his old insouciance,

Yes, yes, I have found Him, and He is the very best of company. Very calm, very quiet, but gloriously alive: we DO, but He IS. Not in the least a proselytizer or a careerist. like His sons.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Lutheran Ecclesiology -- Part 1

I intend a couple of posts that will pick up on my earlier post, "Theological Exegesis: Part I," in which I tried to argue that the Bible is the Church's book. In order to make some sense of that for myself, I've had to look at my problems with the assertion. It makes perfect sense to me on an intellectual level, but I've discovered some inner-hidden-deeper-secret discomfort with it. And after some reflection I realize that it's not all my fault: I'm a Lutheran, and we don't have much of a base for dealing with "the Church" in any concrete way.

That realization intersects with my other complaint about the Lutheran tradition -- viz., that we don't really have a good way to talk about living out the life of faith in ways consistent with God's will. Here, the problems are two-fold: First, as I suggest above, we have a heritage built on an inadequate ecclesiology. Second, we have an almost rabid fear of calls to "holiness." It has become clear to me over the last few months just how interdependent these two weaknesses are.

I propose to vent a little on both of these issues, my venting's being prompted by my reading L. Gregory Jones' book Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis (Eerdmans, 1995). In that book, Jones convinces me that he speaks the truth. In fact, of course, I have long held the main principles he advances. But he does so in an almost systematic way that lays out the logic in a pleasing way. In addition, some nosing around in Liberation Theology has my mind swirling -- as does a quite challenging book barchbishop-future Archbiship of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel (Pilgrim Press, 1984).

First, let's talk about the Church. Then, when work permits me some time to think, I'll pick up holiness. (That sentence is a study in potential misreading.) And then I'll try to pin the two together. Ultimately, I hope that this line of writing will help me to spell out some issues I have with "salvation." But we'll have to see whether I can get more specific than that!

The official documents of Lutheran identity, the "Lutheran Confessions" contained in the Book of Concord, say very little about the Church. Oh, with the creed, we confess that there is a Church and that she has been summoned into existence by God and that she is something of some importance and that for one "ecclesial body" (to use a modern term) to recognize another as "church," it is sufficient that the preaching be orthodox Gospel and that the celebration of sacraments be a faithful witness to (or a visible acting out of) the Gospel.

But while we Lutherans claim that "The Church" exists and we seem to claim that we know it when we see it, we never have set out just what that "thing" called "church" is. Oh, we sort of joke about Jesus' promise (taken, in my view, out of context) that "whenever two or three are gathered, there am I in the midst of them." (The context deals with discipline, not a worshipping disciple community, doesn't it?) And we play with the "metaphors" -- e.g., the Church as the "Body of Christ." (Not all of us believe that that is a metaphor, incidentally, in case you haven't picked it up!) And at least some of us will talk about her characteristics -- e.g., the Church's "synchronic" and "diachronic" character. And finally, some of us (lamentably, some of them have now gone to other churchly traditions) have wrestled with the so-called "marks of the Church." (There's a good CCET book available from Eerdmans on that.) But on a day-to-day basis, the identity and even existence of "the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" make very little practical difference for most Lutherans.

Now I know next to nothing about history and even less about the history of Reformation theology. But I suspect that the reason that the confessions donÂ' make more of the Church is that there wasn't much to perorate about: The Reformers pretty much agreed with the Romans, or at least operated within the same thought sphere, about the nature and mission of the Church, and so they spilled little ink on that. They spent their time and resources on the disputed questions. Oh, that indulgence thing was an obvious insult to the nature of the Church and the Gospel she is intended to announce. (I'm going to get my friend Jim to recount the later Lutheran practice, however, of selling absolution.) Then, those nasty little Anabaptists and Schwaermerei caused some problems from within the ranks of the Reformation, and that required the mainstream Reformers to draw some lines (not always in such pretty tones, I'm afraid -- and not always fairly, either). But, again, those lines were inspired by challenge to the taken-for-grantedness of an understanding of the Church. Over all, there was disagreement over how to live in the Church and what to say about that living, not over the fact or nature or divine institution of the Church. (Just check out the placement of articles dealing with the Church in the Confessio Augustana: You'll see how early they are dealt with -- a clear indication that there was not much disagreement there. It's only abuses that get the ink later on in the confession.)

But that got us Lutherans into trouble when we had to come to grips with a world in which "Church" could not be taken for granted. Especially since the Enlightenment, with its meteoric elevation of the "individual" over against the collective, the nature of the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" has become a major problem. And Lutherans, who look first to the Confessions (well, the good Lutherans do, I suppose, anyway) to find counsel (at least when the Bible seems unclear -- although there are those who look to the Confessions to figure out precisely what the Bible means), could find nothing to help. So with typically fallacious reasoning, they decided that the issue was not all that critical. It's a kind of odd argument from silence.

We Lutherans -- and other Protestants, I think -- tend to do that. We did that with the mass, too: We overlook or ignore the fact that the reason Luther and his heirs didn't carry on constantly about the centrality of the mass in Christian life is that that wasn't in issue; it was abuses relating to what happened and how it happened that required attention. We have come to the conclusion, to the contrary of Reformers' intent, however, that what matters is preaching and singing; the mass itself is sort of a nice exercise in historical memory. I know of a major so-called "Lutheran" congregation in the Twin Cities where the eucharist is celebrated as a congregation once or twice a year -- and one of those events is Good Friday. If one "feels the need" for it more frequently, I guess you can go to a chapel for an after-the-fact add-on. It was like that when I worshipped at Duke University this spring, too: communion was an additional service after the "main service" -- which in that case, irony of ironies, included baptism and confirmation! (There, the new dean of the chapel is an Anglican, so perhaps he'll bring some sense to the project. But the chapel is Methodist, and so, even though the Methodist statement on the means of grace is remarkably clear and orthodox, the sacramental practices look to be on the loose side. Thus, I won't hold my breath.)

Back the to point: If Lutherans followed our own claims, we would look first to Scripture -- and as I have indicated earlier on this blog, that would mean reading the Bible with the eyes, ears, and commitments of the Church through history, not as a literary document that can be deconstructed in 21st century style, using "modern" philosophical inquiry as the critical apparatus to learn about the Church. And we would learn that "Church" (or in other synonyms, "the body," fellowship, community) is central to what it means to Christian. Looking at Corinthians, for example, highlights that the Christians there were not being Christian because they were broken up into little cliques. In the Ephesians segment for a recent Sunday (13 August) liturgy reminded the Ephesians that they were "one with each other." And deeper study reveals that the Church (oh, how like Hauerwas and Willimon this will sound) of Biblical times was its own culture -- not merely a convenient gathering of like-minded people, but an organism (to uses Paul's image, a "body").

Paul claims that failure to discern "the body" during the eucharist is a step toward eating and drinking damnation unto oneself. And I think that that's the situation we're in now. We Lutherans (especially of the Norwegian stripe in which I was raised) get all uptight about challenges to our congregationalism; we have little respect for and no little suspicion of a wider definition of "church." Lutherans more generally may acknowledge some wider reality than the congregation, but its title will be prefaced with the adjective "Lutheran." But, in defense of my fellows in the faith, we Lutherans are not alone: Roman Catholics, for example, will argue that they are the true church to which the other traditions may return at any time -- but in the meantime those traditions are of questionable merit. (Yes: I am accusing Roman Catholics in general, with their long and detailed history of ecclesiological study, of having an inadequate ecclesiology, too. That's one of the reasons that I both lament and question the recent rush to Rome by some of America's brightest Lutheran minds.)

Until we correct our ecclesiology -- repent and believe the Gospel as it applies to the Church -- we will have no success in developing a "theological exegesis" or gaining insight in to "holy living" or, in the final analysis, professing Christ faithfully. And I am not all that hopeful -- except that the Gospel requires me to hope. Thus, even though the new ELCA "worship resource" (with its TEN settings -- or supposed settings -- of the mass) is designed to sell to a pluralistic culture, so that every congregation can develop its own "style" and "sing with its own voice" (comments I've heard about the book), I remain skeptically -- even desperately -- hope-filled that the Spirit will not allow that further to diminish the low ecclesiology of the ELCA.

Part 2 awaits, but for today I fear I've made another long diatribe. I hope that doesn't prevent someone from clarifying what I'm trying to say or taking issue with what I do manage to get out.

Friday, August 25, 2006

At Ease in Zion

In an essay, “God’s Revelation and Proclamation in History,” Gustavo Gonzalez (a theologican of the "Liberation Theology" mold) writes, “It is time to open the Bible and read it from the perspective of ‘those who are persecuted in the cause of right’ (Matt. 5:10), from the perspective of the condemned human beings of this earth – for, after all, theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It is for them that the gospel is destined, it is to them that the gospel is preferentially addressed.”

I really like that thinking, and I’m inclined to agree with him. “God’s preferential option for the poor” is a controversial idea, one loudly condemned by the neo-cons (especially among Roman Catholics, but not unheard among Lutherans) , but one affirmed (if memory serves) by more than one recent Pope. I like that it seems to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously (an address that I find an awfully good summary of the Gospel), and it seems to comport with the witness and example of Jesus. It gives voice to my complaint that much of modern theology is either too academic, anemic, and bodiless or too touch-feely, hand-holding, chaplaincy-like.

I wonder whether it might be time for the well-off Church to recall the witness of the liberation theologians. (It's a crock that they were all Marxists -- though no one condemns most modern theologians for being capitalist.) I wonder whether it is time for the Church to realize that most of us (her members) are not among the lost, the oppressed, the poor, the powerless, the condemned. I wonder whether it might be time for some of us to be disquieted by a Gospel that changes lives and situations, rather than affirming, comfirming, and giving comfort to the status quo. (And when I say "I wonder," of course I don't wonder at all: I think it's way past time.)

I see evidence for an effort to avoid the Gospel in a lot of the church’s preaching. It seems to me that a lot of -- if not most -- preaching that gets done is a not-very-refined effort either to show those of us who, by a straightforward reading of God’s word, ought to be discombobulated that we have nothing to fear, that we are “OK,” that God loves us “just as we are,” no change necessary; or to so “spiritualize” the Gospel as to disincarnate the message, which then leaves us just as we are, but affirmed nonetheless. Most sermons I hear (and not just at my own church, but there too) seem to strive mightily to identify us, who sit in the pews, with those very humble and down-trodden ones to whom the Gospel is addressed. And I frankly find the attempt amusing – when it is not maddening in the extreme.

Of course, we are not poor in resources; we are among the richest civilization the world has known. And the gap between us and the poorest in the world is so vast that even science fiction writers can’t really describe it adequately. But, in order to make the Gospel "relevant" to our situation, if we are not poor in money or power, then we can be “poor in spirit.” Thus, we talk about our anxieties, our disappointments, our hopes-deferred – and see in them a moral equivalence with physical poverty and being "disappeared" by some political regime. “Charity begins at home” and so we must “love ourselves first, if we are to love others.” And it goes on.

Kathy, my wife, says that there are times when she wants to scream – that if she hears one more sermon anywhere that tries to portray all of us middle-class respectables as “suffering,” she will stand up and yell “Enough!” She has helped me to see (not for the first time, I readily acknowledge) just how far we have come from orthodox faith -- where genuine suffering is addressed and woe is addressed to those "who are at ease in Zion." When worship becomes an exercise in avoiding responsibility, in being enabled to forget that we sin and fall short of the glory of god, in ignoring that “repent” is the first word of Gospel preaching (not: “Don’t worry; be happy.”) – then it ceases to be worship.

I think the rationalism that has taken control of theology in the Western Church – probably feeding into “constantinianism” and nurtured by the incredible wealth of Christians – has worked an inversion in the Gospel’s effects. And we need to be recalled to the path of faith.

It may go without saying that, at least one function of preaching ought to be “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” But it has become clear that preachers also need re-education in what constitutes “affliction” and “comfort.” We need more preaching that tells most of us to “get a grip” and come to terms with reality – the reality of the Gospel, which may require that we give up our wealth and security in order to follow Jesus.

Hmmm: This is sounding sort of like Bonhoeffer, isn’t it? That’s not too surprising, given that Gonzalez expressed an appreciation for Bonhoeffer as one of the few theologians of the West who “got” what the Gospel was about.